College basketball: Wildcats gear up for 2013-14 campaign with eyes on the prize

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 11:10 p.m. MST

Davion Berry, right, of Weber State drives past Dre Winston of Portland St. during their match up at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

OGDEN — Most college basketball coaches would be downright delighted with a 30-win season and a deep postseason tournament run.

But even though his Weber State men's basketball team piled up an all-time school and Big Sky Conference record 30 single-season victories and nearly won the Collegeinsider.com Tournament title — becoming the first Big Sky school in history to ever reach the finals of a national postseason tournament — Wildcats coach Randy Rahe was still far from satisfied.

After all, with all his outstanding success in his first seven seasons at WSU — 150 victories, including five 20-win seasons, six postseason appearances and three Big Sky Coach of the Year awards — and despite the stellar presence of Damian Lillard, who went on to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors last season, Rahe has been unable to get the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament since his first season at the helm.

And it bothers him a great deal.

"It gnaws at me a lot, I've got to be honest with you," Rahe said earlier this week as he prepared to begin his eighth year as the Wildcats' coach with tonight's game against in-state rival BYU. "It puts a pit in my stomach. But all you can do is move on to the next year and try to get it done.

"We've won (regular-season) championships without going to the NCAA Tournament. Like they say, I want it all, and you haven't got it all. And it bothers me and it motivates us and we want to try and get there the next year. You just try to do the best you can and you hope. And I do think that if you keep doing things the right way with good kids and building your program step by step that eventually you'll get over the hump.

"Somebody said, 'Are you guys over the hump?' Well, we won 30 games, so I don't think it's the hump," Rahe said. "We came two points short last year of getting there (in the Big Sky tourney title game), and then we had two years with major injuries when I think we had the best team in the league but injuries kept us from getting that."

For the fifth time in six years, the Big Sky preseason polls again predict that the Wildcats, who finished 30-7 last season, will win the conference championship, something coach Rahe flatly stated "we haven't even talked about."

So, is this year's team — which features four seniors and eight freshmen on its roster — strong enough to get past perennial nemesis Montana, finally break through and earn an invitation to the Big Dance next March?

"Potentially, I think so," Rahe said. "I thought last year's team was potentially good enough, too, and we were right there. We just couldn't win at Montana. … We've just got to move forward and try to put ourselves in position to win it. It definitely motivates us.

"Every team is different. We don't talk to this year's team about what happened last year. It's not fair to this team because it's a new team. These kids all want to get it done, too, but you can talk about it so much that you can put some heat on them. And there's no reason to do that.

"I tell this team that I just want this team to be as good as this team can be," he said. "Wherever that leads us, it leads us. Let's just try to be as good as we can be."

This year's ball club features three returning starters in 6-foot-4 senior swingman Davion Berry, 6-foot-10 senior center Kyle Tresnak and 6-foot-1 guard Jordan Richardson.

Berry was a first team All-District and All-Big Sky selection last season, when he was also selected as the league's Newcomer of the Year after averaging a team-leading 15.2 points per game, which ranked fifth-best in the Big Sky. He also led the Wildcats in assists and steals last season.

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